Mayor’s actions against council foe dominate fire captain, official testimony at removal hearing

Bardstown Mayor John Royalty listened to a discussion during a city council meeting.
Bardstown Mayor John Royalty listened to a discussion during a city council meeting. The Kentucky Standard

The findings from an investigation released last week could have wider implications than whether Bardstown Mayor John Royalty can hang onto his job.

It could also expose him to criminal charges and harm the city’s position as it defends itself in an unrelated defamation lawsuit seeking $2.7 million in damages.

Several findings in the investigation and documents unearthed in the three-month investigation run counter to claims Royalty made while testifying under oath. Royalty faced a full day of questions during a Dec. 12 deposition in the lawsuit former Bardstown Police Capt. Tom Roby brought against the city after he was demoted and then fired.

(Royalty is a former Lexington officer who was fired after he pulled a gun during an off-duty dispute at a fast-food restaurant in the early 90s. Royalty also was fired as a Bardstown officer in 1998 for violating a use-of-force policy.)

Roby’s lawsuit involves Royalty’s unilateral reorganization of the police department last April, but Roby’s attorney, Keith Sparks, delved into the issue of a packet of documents left at City Hall on Nov. 1, and other issues as he attempted to show a pattern by Royalty of vindictiveness and retaliation. Roby contends that he was demoted because Royalty held a grudge against him from the mayor’s time as a city police officer before he was fired.

According to a transcript of the deposition, Royalty claimed no knowledge of the origin of the packets, which contained personal information, court records and city fire reports on two fires that had occurred at Councilwoman Kecia Copeland’s past residences.

“So it’s your sworn testimony here today under oath and subject to perjury charges, that you had nothing to do with putting that envelope together?” Sparks asked Royalty.

“Didn’t do it,” Royalty answered.

“It is your testimony you had nothing to do with it?” Sparks asked again.

“I had nothing to do with that envelope,” Royalty replied.

The lead investigator in the city probe, Lexington lawyer and former city councilman Scott Crosbie, obtained testimony from the Fire Capt. Todd Spalding that the mayor ordered the fireman to print out the two fire reports on Sept. 12. Spalding said he had not printed out those reports for anyone else. Those two reports were part of the packets.

In that same deposition, Royalty also denied any collusion with then-interim Bardstown Police Chief McKenzie Mattingly, who also showed up at the Nov. 1 council meeting where the packets were “discovered” and gave a report on an open records request he had filed concerning Copeland’s city-owned iPad and its email contents.

“Had you discussed and planned this discussion about Kecia Copeland’s email prior to that meeting?” Sparks asked.

“No,” Royalty responded, and he declined to say more because of the city investigation.

Royalty denied several more times in the deposition that he had coordinated with Mattingly.

If that were true, it would mean a series of coincidences.

Investigators have developed a timetable through testimony and documents that Royalty ordered a city employee to lie to obtain the city-owned iPads of all council members in October. By Oct. 24, Royalty had gained access to Copeland’s private email accounts and searched through them. Mattingly submitted his open records request the next day, Oct. 25, and Royalty’s former executive assistant prepared a detailed analysis in her response, which was sent to Mattingly on Oct. 31.

Adding to the coincidence in the timing of the open records request by Mattingly is the timing of the packet containing the fire report that was traced back to Royalty. The packet appeared anonymously and reportedly was found on the steps outside the city council’s meeting room.

If the Roby lawsuit goes to trial and that evidence is presented by the plaintiff as an example of a pattern of vindictiveness, which Roby claims was the motive behind his demotion, a jury would have to buy that the open records request timing and the packet appearing was a coincidence.

Mayor could face criminal charges

Then there is the issue of potential criminal charges against the mayor.

One charge he could be looking at is perjury, for his testimony under oath in the Roby lawsuit. Prosecutors often say perjury is one of the hardest crimes to prove, because it requires more than just saying a false statement while under oath. The statements must be material to a case, meaning the falsehoods would change the outcome of a trial, and they must be said with the knowledge that they are false.

Perjury is a class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The investigation report also listed second-degree official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor, which involves a public official committing an act related to his office that constitutes an unauthorized exercise of his official functions.

Another potential law that was broken, according to the report, was fourth-degree unlawful access, from Royalty’s accessing Copeland’s private email account without her consent. That law is a class B misdemeanor.

The city council has the option to refer its findings to law enforcement after its scheduled April 12 hearing on the findings. The motion Tuesday by Councilman John Kelley scheduled the hearing to consider a vote on removal of the mayor, and to consider the possibility of referring its findings to law enforcement agencies, including the local county attorney, the commonwealth’s attorney, the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney in Louisville.